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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hope Muted for Russia-U.S. Talks

Ahead of high-level Russian-U.S. talks in Moscow later this week, officials from both countries were positive about the chances that their troubled relations could be mended.

But lawmakers and analysts on both sides said upcoming presidential elections in the countries meant there was little hope that much would be achieved when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov meet U.S. counterparts Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates in Moscow on Friday and Saturday.

Lavrov said Tuesday that Washington had promised "a concrete answer" to Moscow's proposal to develop a missile defense and early warning system jointly, instead of building it unilaterally in Central Europe.

"I hope this will allow us to strengthen strategic stability and not create new risks," Lavrov said, speaking to reporters in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

Officials from the Foreign Ministry and U.S. State Department said topics would also include Moscow's decision to suspend its obligations under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, or CFE, further progress in reducing strategic nuclear arms and the resolution of Kosovo's final status.

Richard Lugar, the senior Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to seek Russia's cooperation on arms control and missile defense.

"The visit provides the last, best opportunity to lay the foundation for bold initiatives," before Bush and President Vladimir Putin step down, Lugar said Monday in a speech at the Brookings Institution, which was posted on his web site.

Differences between the countries have deteriorated over Washington's plans to install elements of a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to counter possible launches by Iran. Moscow says the system could be used against Russian missiles.

Earlier this year, Putin proposed that the United States and Russia share a radar station in Azerbaijan in place of the planned sites in Central Europe.

Daniel Fried, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said the U.S. side had offered "very creative ideas" on missile defense and that its "Russian counterparts have acknowledged that our ideas offered some interesting openings."

Spokespeople at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow declined to comment ahead of the talks. There was no answer at the Defense Ministry's press office phone Tuesday.

Mikhail Margelov, head of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the countries' missile defense positions remained "irreconcilable."

"The United States believes that the Gabala radar station offered by Russia can only be additional to the system it plans in Poland and Czech Republic," Margelov said in a written reply to questions. "Obviously, Moscow thought differently in proposing the base."

European lawmakers said Moscow and Washington should take into account that their talks affected the heart of European security.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German member of the European Parliament, said that Americans and Europeans should try to convince Moscow to soften its stance.

But solutions to the disputes would not come quickly or easily, he said. "I do not foresee any substantial move before the presidential elections in Russia next March," he said by phone from Brussels.

Lambsdorff said Moscow had seemingly tied the CFE Treaty issue to a solution over Kosovo's status when it set Dec. 12 as its deadline for withdrawing from the pact. This is just two days after the deadline set by the United States and the European Union to reach an agreement on Kosovo.

"The CFE Treaty is being exploited politically," he said.

Moscow has criticized NATO's refusal to ratify an amended CFE Treaty until Russia withdraws its troops from Georgia and the self-proclaimed Transdnestr republic.

Russia has ratified the treaty, but Putin announced the country's unilateral suspension of participation in May.

Alexander Khramchikhin, an analyst with the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, said a compromise on the missile defense issue was also unlikely, as Washington has little to lose in dragging its feet on Moscow's offer.

Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow branch of the World Security Institute, a U.S. think tank, was less skeptical.

"While the bases have yet to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic, what other offers from Moscow does Washington have?" he asked.

The Czech government has frozen talks with Washington on the radar station until the end of the year, but Moscow is pushing for an extension until late 2008, apparently hoping that Bush's successor will be less keen on the missile defense, Safranchuk said.

Christopher Langton, a senior fellow with London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said compromise was difficult to reach on the military disputes. The CFE Treaty was a multilateral agreement that could not be resolved without all 30 states' agreement.

And for a compromise over the missile dispute, the United States would have to rethink its plans in Eastern Europe. "The Russian suggestions are actually very practical and attractive for the United States," Langton said.

n Fried said last week that the country was ready to take an active role promoting Russia's path to democracy, refuting media reports that Washington had practically given up on the issue:

"America does stand for democracy and values. It does have an impact on our relations," Fried said. "We do speak out and we do meet with both the Russian opposition and independent civil society, and we do express ourselves when we have problems and when we have concerns," Fried told reporters in Washington.